Bette Davis effectively ended her contiguous run as Hollywood’s greatest leading lady (going back to '37) on this pic, reunited with Paul Henreid, Claude Rains & Irving Rapper, the co-stars & helmer of NOW, VOYAGER/’42. And if DECEPTION is hardly great drama (or even great melodrama, with its goofy OTT theatrics and shopworn manner), it does make for a smash-up finale. In the magnificently realized opening (Anton Grot’s set design & Ernest Haller’s lensing are spectacular thru-out), Henreid shows up in NYC after the war, alive, if not particularly well. That’s where Davis, his old flame, catches him mid-cadenza in the Haydn concerto. (Erich Wolfgang Korngold wrote that cadenza as well as the bravura cello piece featured in the climax.*) These two soon wed, much to the annoyance of Claude Rains, the brilliant, if caustically arrogant composer who has ‘kept’ Davis (in no small way) during the war years. Rains is amusing, willfully cruel & eccentric as the vain composer, but he never feels threatening in a role that calls for the sexual attraction & sadism of a James Mason. While Henreid, who now & then looks like the young Herbert von Karajan, lacks the weakened constitution & mental imbalance of a neurasthenic wreck. Gérard Philipe would have been perfect, or perhaps Jean-Pierre Aumont who was working in Hollywood at the time. Then again, with proper casting, the whole improbable scenario might well have collapsed. This way, with Eleanor Aller dubbing the cello for Henreid and Shura Cherkassky doing Beethoven’s Appassionata under Davis’s fingers, we believe just as much are we need to . . . no more. Davis would take a year off before finishing her Warners contract and then make a spectacular comeback in ALL ABOUT EVE/’50. But that’s another story.
*Sadly, the concerto is heavily abridged in the film, but there must be half a dozen modern recordings of it currently available.